2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together
by J. Kirk Boyd
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2010
The first time I heard John Lennon’s “Imagine,” I was a high school kid with little sense that the world could be different. The song stopped me in my tracks. Tears streamed down my cheeks as Lennon’s visionary prayer for a world without religious or nationalistic swagger set my heart and mind racing.
J. Kirk Boyd, author of “2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together” and the executive director of the 2048 Project at the University of California, Berkeley, has developed Lennon’s vision and crafted a cogent and realizable proposal for peace and well-being the world over. The plan is straightforward and simple and is conveyed in a clear, short, easy-to-read text. Like Lennon, Boyd wants a world in which people matter; he envisions a universe where respect trumps competition and each person alive receives the material essentials to ensure his or her advancement. And, rather than presenting a pie-in-the-sky what if, “2048” projects a concrete, if still developing, timetable for granting universal human rights to the world’s people. Indeed, in less than four decades, by 2048, Boyd foresees tremendous changes in how we govern ourselves and treat one another.
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Humanity, he writes, “has an unprecedented opportunity to prevent future wars, eliminate poverty and create the conditions necessary for a sustainable existence on our planet. These ends can be achieved through a written agreement to live together that is enforceable in the courts of all countries. “
The idea hearkens back to 1948, the year that members of the United Nations created the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That document was revolutionary, for the first time acknowledging that everyone alive has certain fundamental entitlements, regardless of current residence or place of birth. The concept, Boyd explains, gave voice to the idea that there should be one human rights standard. “No one should be free from slavery in one country but not another,” he writes. “No one should have the right to an education in one country but not another and no one should have the right to speak out against the government in one country but not another.”
But there was a problem, Boyd continues, because despite international lip-service supporting the Declaration, it has been largely unenforceable. In fact, because the UN lacks the power to punish countries for violating the Declaration, the statement has been symbolically important, if essentially meaningless, in protecting human rights.
Not so “2048.” “First, we write our agreement to live together,” Boyd writes. “Second, we insist that those in power make our agreement enforceable law in exchange for our allowing them to govern. Third, we teach students about our agreement and we go to court to enforce our agreement, because history has shown that even a written agreement may be violated by government officials unless we go to court and obtain orders to stop them.”
What’s more, the 2048 plan picks up – and expands – the Four Freedoms delineated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his 1941 State of the Union address: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want and freedom from fear. Boyd has added a fifth freedom, freedom for the environment, to address the ever-worsening ecological crisis that threatens planetary survival.
Upholding these pillars, according to “2048,” will move the planet toward peace, security and prosperity. It is important to note that the proposal leaves capitalism intact while shrinking the distance between the richest and poorest peoples. The concept further eschews turning every sword into a plowshare. “Our international community is spending $1.4 trillion a year on military expenditures. One percent of GNP for all countries is roughly $500 billion. All it would take to bring about the realization of the Five Freedoms and to usher in a new form of human society would be to reallocate $500 billion of military costs,” Boyd assures readers. “That would leave $900 billion for military, more than enough.”
One percent. Imagine that.
Ending poverty, of course, is key and a chapter entitled “Freedom From Want” lays out some appalling statistics. Each day, Boyd writes, 27,000 children die from starvation and preventable diseases such as dysentery. Indeed, 80 percent of humanity lives on less than $10 day, while the world’s richest residents increasingly control the lion’s share of wealth and resources.
“Without the realization of freedom from want for everyone in the world, social pressures will erupt and not everyone rebelling will be a terrorist …Wiping out poverty will do more to rid the world of terrorism than any number of nuclear weapons will ever do. Terrorism will fade away as the Five Freedoms take hold,” Boyd predicts.
In addition, Boyd argues that freedom from want is integrally tied to freedom from fear. Assuring both requires that governments treat every human being with dignity. It also requires that each person have access to life’s essentials: adequate food, clothing, and recreation; a decent home; basic literacy training; medical care; a useful, remunerative job; and adequate protection from the economic panic wrought by old age, illness, accidents or unemployment.
Sound ridiculously utopian? Perhaps. But the strength of “2048” is that it makes the formulation seems both sensible and possible. Boyd puts his faith in the rule of law – he is, after all, an attorney – and he argues that regional human rights courts, patterned after the successful European Court of Human Rights, can make a huge dent in upholding the Five Freedoms and shifting expenditures from armaments to human needs. At the same time, he acknowledges opposition from critics who equate universal human rights with cultural imperialism, a charge he finds absurd. “Every person is human; therefore every person has human rights,” he writes. “It doesn’t matter whether those human beings are Chinese, British, or Nigerian – only that they live, that they exist.”
That said, the draft document, available for perusal and comment here, will undoubtedly ruffle many a feather. For example, Article 21 outlaws torture and bans the use of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. On a completely different tangent, Article 26 guarantees access to contraception and gives the world’s people control over all decisions regarding reproduction. “Everyone has the right to control his or her body,” the Article states, “including the authority to end life-extending treatment.” While most progressives will cheer these sections, seeing them as enormous advances for humankind, we don’t need a crystal ball to predict that they will elicit a firestorm of opposition.
Boyd is unfazed by inevitable disagreements and welcomes written comments and questions about the 2048 draft document. At the same time, he is not a community organizer, which means that the task of mobilizing support to move 2048 from text to reality falls to us. In the end, if we want to achieve the Five Freedoms, we need to dig in our heels and work to bring them to fruition.
Boyd takes great inspiration from Gandhi, reminding “2048” readers of the pacifist leader’s statement, “What a man [sic] thinks about, he becomes.” In urging us to think about universal human rights, Boyd bolsters support for nonviolence, respect and tolerance. In the end, he helps us imagine a new, more equitable, social order.
John Lennon would be pleased.